Not everyone is a fan of Vista gadgets, but Deb Shinder has a large collection of them that she finds extremely useful. Here are the ones that top her list of favorites.
I love the Vista sidebar. I know many people think it’s a waste of space, and Windows 7 does away with it altogether and just lets the gadgets float on your desktop wherever you want them (something you can already do with individual gadgets in Vista by detaching them from the sidebar). But whether they’re lined up neatly down the side of my desktop in a bar or scattered around, I think gadgets are cool and useful.
In fact, I have 20 of them running on my Vista desktop — some on the bar and some detached and arranged on my own pseudo-sidebar near the bottom of my 24-inch monitor, as shown in Figure A.
My desktop has 20 gadgets, some on the sidebar and some that are detached.
Many folks don’t like a “busy” desktop, but it works nicely for me. I like having everything I need at my fingertips — as long as it’s all neatly arranged. Note that this is a 24-inch monitor, and I have a three-monitor array (19- inch monitors on either side), so I have plenty of screen real estate to work with.
Ed Bott recently shared his favorite gadgets with us in his blog, but while I agree with Ed that most (not all) of the gadgets Microsoft included in Vista are not very exciting, my favorites (except for one) are different from his. Of course, your favorites may not be the same as mine or Ed’s, depending on how you use your computer and what information you like to have at your fingertips. But in this article, I’ll show you the ones I find myself using most.
For a long time, I used the calendar application included with Vista (which you can see in Figure A, third from the top). The calendar is probably the gadget I use most often because I work with many deadlines and I like having the whole month right there in front of me so I can quickly see, for instance, what day of the week the 19th is when someone asks me whether I can meet that day.
Recently, I found a great replacement for the Vista calendar: zCalendar. It’s similar in appearance to the built-in calendar, but it lets you set alerts, highlights days you have appointments, plays a sound of your choosing to alert you, and lets you make notes regarding your appointments and events. You can see it in Figure B.
The zCalendar gadget provides more functionality than the calendar gadget that comes with Vista.
#2: Digital World Clocks
These actually account for three of my 20 gadgets. I work with people in different parts of the country, so I like being able to see what time it is in other time zones. Yes, I know Vista lets you set additional time zones for the system tray clock, but it displays only your own; you have to hover the mouse pointer over your time to display the others. So I installed the Digital World Clock, which you can download here. You can add as many instances of it as you like, with different time zones and clock names, as shown in Figure C.
The digital world clock lets you see at a glance what time it is in different time zones.
#3: Weather or not?
There are four pages of weather gadgets on the Live Gallery Web site. I’ve tried several of them, and the one I’ve settled on (at least for now) is ProWeather. I like it because the display is simple; it shows the location and temperature. But when you click the small arrow at the bottom, it slides out a wealth of information, as shown in Figure D.
The ProWeather gadget gives you a lot of info in a small space.
You get a full 10-day forecast in the slide-out display, which includes wind direction and speed, air pressure and humidity, UV index, visibility, “feels like” (wind chill/heat), dew point, the day’s high and low, chance of rain, and time of sunrise and sunset.
You can set two cities and switch between them with a click on the lower-right icon. If you click the icon that looks like a radar, you see a radar map. Or you can click the globe icon and see the time difference and distance between your two locations, as well as their locations on a world map.
#4: Two for one: Looking up the codes
I use these two gadgets a lot. They’re very simple and straightforward; they just do what they say they do, and that’s all. But they’re very useful to have on the desktop. If I have someone’s address but don’t know the zip, I just type the address into this handy little gadget and click the Get Zip button to display the nine-digit zip code, as shown in Figure E. You can download the ZipGadget here.
The ZipGadget is simple and straightforward.
The Area Code Locator gadget works the same way. If there’s a number on my caller ID and I don’t recognize the area code, I just type it into the Code field on this little gadget and find out where the call originated. (Well, maybe not, with today’s VoIP lines that can go anywhere, but it’s a start.) The interface is as simple as it could possibly be, as you can see in Figure F.
The Area Code Locator gadget is as simple as it gets.
You can download the Area Code gadget here.
#5: By the light of the silvery moon
Most of my gadgets help me get my work done, but a few are just for fun. In the summer, we like to plan patio parties on nights when the moon will be full. There are several moon phase gadgets out there. I like Full Moon v3.2 because 1) it looks cool on my desktop and 2) it gives me the info I want and nothing more. I can see at a glance what the moon phase is for today, or I can click on the moon and see when the next full moon, new moon, etc., will be in the full month display, as shown in Figure G.
See the current, past and upcoming phases of the moon at a glance.
Click the left and right arrows to see what the moon phases were last month or what they’re going to be next month.
#6: Not lost in translation
I’m always running across foreign words or phrases, or I may want to slip a foreign word into something I’m writing. This compact little Language Translator gadget uses the Google translator for translation between an amazing number of languages.
Just type the phrase you want to translate into the top box, then select the languages from the drop-down list. Choices include Arabic, Chinese (simplified or traditional), French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish to English, or English to any of those languages. Click the Translate link at the bottom, and the translation appears in the bottom pane, as shown in Figure H.
The Language Translator gadget is great for “quick and dirty” translations to and from English and 10 other languages.
#7: Keeping an eye on the system
These next two gadgets are useful for keeping an eye on the usage of your system resources and other system info. The first is a small one that displays processor activity and memory usage. I actually have two iterations of this, one that I use on my dual-core machines and one for quad core. The dual-core version is called Multi Meter and you can get it here. It’s shown in Figure I.
The ultra compact Multi Meter gadget shows dual-core CPU and memory usage.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a version of the same gadget for quad-core computers, so I use one called mCPU that does the same thing. It’s available for download here. It’s shown in Figure J.
mCPU shows quad-core usage.
#8: Even more resource info
The other resource monitoring gadget, SysInfo, is much larger. You can configure it to display a huge amount of info, including CPU and memory as the two preceding gadgets do, but also include info about your hard disks, CD/DVD, battery, and network traffic. Figure K shows the configuration dialog
You can configure the SysInfo gadget to show a wealth of information.
I just use mine to display computer uptime and storage information. You can choose from three modes: normal (where all info is displayed on the desktop), compact (where only headers are displayed on the desktop or sidebar and details are shown in flyout windows), and compressed (where only a single icon is displayed on the desktop or sidebar and all info is displayed in a flyout window when you click it). Figure L shows all the modes.
The SysInfo gadget can be configured to display in normal, compact, or compressed mode.
Figure M shows the gadget in normal mode on the desktop.
My SysInfo gadget shows system uptime and information about my hard disks and removable storage cards.
#9: Clipping the board
This last gadget has saved me much time and effort. If you use Microsoft Office, you know that the Office Clipboard — unlike the one built into the OS — will hold more than one item at a time. But what if you’re not using Office? How many times do you copy something to the Clipboard, then copy something else over it and wish you could go back and paste the previous bit of text? I do that all the time when editing complicated documents, but with the Vista Clipboard, the previous data is deleted when you put something new on the Clipboard.
This handy clipboard extender, called Clip Collector, comes to the rescue. You can set it to hold up to 120 clips. It’s small and doesn’t take up a lot of space on your desktop or sidebar. You don’t have to do anything special to save something to it, either. Anytime you put text on the Vista Clipboard, it also goes into the Clip Collector gadget’s memory. To retrieve a previous clip, just click the icon (a partial clipboard), and a large clipboard graphic will fly out with the text displayed on it, as shown in Figure N.
The Clip Collector lets you preserve up to 120 text items on the clipboard
My only gripe with Clip Collector is that it saves only text items, so if you copy a graphic to the clipboard, it’s not saved. Since I’m usually working with text in documents and articles, that’s not a big deal, but it would be really nice if copied and cut graphics could also be saved.
#10: Bonus gadgets
The above make up my list of favorites (at the moment), but I also heavily use my timer/alarm clock gadget, my Dictionary.com gadget, and my Live Writer gadget. Also, in today’s globally interconnected world, I often find myself turning to my little Celsius-to-Fahrenheit converter and my currency converter. Figure O shows all these gadgets.
Other gadgets I use often are the alarm clock, Dictionary, Live Writer blogger, and various converters.
You can find all of the above gadgets on the Live Gallery Web site. I am always on the lookout for new, useful gadgets. In particular I’m still looking for a good Imperial to Metric converter gadget. I’ve tried one (called Unit Converter), but it doesn’t work as well as I’d like. If you run across one, please let me know.
Debra Littlejohn Shinder is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. These include Scene of the Cybercrime: Computer Forensics Handbook, published by Syngress, and Computer Networking Essentials, published by Cisco Press. She is editor of WXPnews (www.wxpnews.com) and VistaNews (www.vistanews.com) and for the past five years has been awarded the Microsoft MVP in enterprise security.